Help

I was at a friend’s house yesterday. She’s got a little boy the same age as Jenson and has really hurt her back. She’s in agony and I’ve come over to help her during the day.

I’m not saying this to get brownie points for how awesome I am, I’m sharing this because it’s given me a lovely glimpse into what a gift it is to accept the help of other people.

When she was in the most early agonising moments of her injury, I offered to come over to do what I could do help her and she was reluctant to accept the help. She said she couldn’t accept my help. Like me, she’s a strong, independent and giving person who is more used to being the helper and is uncomfortable needing to lean on other people.

She’s probably even more strong, independent and giving than I am. I’ve practically lived at her house since our boys were born and she has invited Gregg and I over for dinner so often. Honestly, she’s cooked for us more than I have cooked at all since giving birth to Jenson! She’s been super thoughtful in sourcing special breastfeeding remedies for me to help with the troubles I’ve been having and is one of my biggest cheerleaders on my journey as a Mum.

So when she injured her back, I wanted to support her as best I could. And it was, to be honest, really frustrating to have her reject my offers of help due to her discomfort at needing to lean on other people.

My help was a gift I could give back to her in the face of all the kindness she has shown me and I was delighted when she messaged me to take me up on my offer of help.

It was a lovely day. Catching up, talking about our hopes for the boys, dreaming of travels and helping her, here and there, to lift her son or soothe him when he needed a jig around the room.

Helping someone I want to help is a pleasure.

So if I turn this around and think about how I often turn down help because of the discomfort I feel being ‘needy’, I see that I’m depriving people of a chance to feel special, to give back in and to get closer to me as they see me vulnerable and in need of a helping hand.

I’m sure this experience isn’t going to bring about a massive shift in me overnight and I doubt I’ll feel absolutely at ease accepting help going forward. But at least I’ll have a very good example to draw from about how good it feels when someone allows you to help them and I hope it will allow me to say ‘thank you so much, I’d love to accept your help’ more often.

Double standards

I’ve been having a bit of an issue with breastfeeding. Sorry if this is TMI but it’s true.

I’ve loved the experience of providing sustenance for Jenson and have no problem whipping my breasts out in public to do so. That’s not the issue. It’s that I’m not producing quite enough milk for him and so he’s been slow to put on weight.

I don’t know where the issue stems from, although there are a number of potential reasons why my supply isn’t quite enough for him. The blood loss I experienced just after giving birth that left me anaemic, that Jenson was tongue-tied for the first 3 weeks and perhaps didn’t feed strongly enough to bring my milk in fully, my genetics, my diet (although I don’t think that being vegan has any impact on milk production)…

Regardless of where the issue stems from, I’m potentially not providing enough milk or Jenson isn’t getting quite enough and, although my health visitor isn’t overly worried, there’s a chance that we may need to top him up with formula.

I’m not the only person I know who has been having feeding issues. A few people in my anti-natal class have had to move fully onto formula and others are doing a mix of bottle and breastfeeding. And when they shared their sadness at not being able to fully breastfeed their baby, I was understanding about how they were feeling, but also had a real conviction that as long as the baby was getting sustenance (through formula or breastmilk) and was loved, there was no shame in switching to formula.

That is, I felt this strong conviction until I was faced with potentially having to use some formula myself.

What double standards!

That other people can be human but I need to be perfect, that good enough is enough for others on this journey of motherhood but that I need to get everything ‘right’.

I started writing this post feeling sad and a bit ashamed but now I just feel pissed off at the bar of perfection I find myself yet again trying to vault over – a bar that is never achievable because it’s too high.

Because if I was perfect with my ability to produce milk, I would fall short in how I’m playing with him. Or if I did both those things perfectly, I’d worry about how he’s sleeping compared to others. Or how he’s developing or interacting or what clothes I’m dressing him in…and the list of self-judgement could go on and on.

I’m so glad I started to write this post because I see how far I’ve progressed. Yes, that bar of perfection may still be in my life and I may still start to measure myself against it, but I’m able to step back and see it for the unrealistic, cold, unhelpful measure it is.

It doesn’t take into account how I rock my son when he is crying for the 100th time in the day, or how my days are planned around what will bring him peace, or how I cradle myself around him at night so he can sleep soundly. It doesn’t measure the depth of my love for him or the effort I put in to be the best Mum I can be. Not a perfect Mum, but as good a Mum as I can be.

So what if I can’t produce exactly the right amount of milk. I’m doing my best – my body is doing its best – and that is good enough.

Pace

So far I’ve loved the slow, dreamy pace of motherhood. I’ve spent hours lying on the sofa feeding Jenson, forgot about housework and done very little with my time.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve written about my experience as a new mum, gone out to lots of groups and met up with loads of people. So I haven’t done nothing with my time. But I’ve been a ‘human being’ instead of acting out my usual ‘human doing’ rush, rush, rush. And it has started to feel a bit uncomfortable.

Yesterday Gregg was off work and I had written a list of things that I wanted to accomplish during the day. Not big things but some things that I was looking forward to getting done.

  • Batch cooking some pasta sauce to have the rest of the week
  • Going to the GP
  • Sorting out my wardrobe and putting away my maternity clothes
  • Uploading shoes and other items I no longer wear onto Facebook marketplace
  • Doing my ‘break up with your phone’ activity of the day
  • Putting some photo frames up in the bedroom

These were things that would have taken me a few hours to accomplish in the past but I would have stretched them out over several hours, enjoying the feeling of de-cluttering and streamlining my life. I would have perhaps extended my cooking to include baking some cookies or cakes and then I maybe would have also used my busy energy to give our bathroom a well-needed clean or left the house to sit in a cafe for a few hours, writing a blog post or a letter to a friend.

But that was not my experience yesterday. I managed to accomplish some of the essential tasks – cooked the pasta sauce (a task left over from the day before), spent 45 minutes frantically clearing out my wardrobe and put a few of my shoes on Facebook to sell. But it was punctured by Gregg bringing me Jenson for a feed or taking him outside for a walk so Gregg could do some of the jobs he’d set his mind to in the day.

It felt so frustrating to be going at this slower pace. To not be able to get things done and instead just surrender to being with my boy.

I feel so horrible saying this – like a really undeserving mum – because it’s a beautiful thing to spend time with Jenson. To witness him feeding, sleepy and content or looking at the world with wide eyes.

But it’s also frustrating to have my wings clipped and to find myself unable to do all those small things that would have taken up a mere fraction of the day in times gone by.

And I’m also finding the ‘break up with your phone’ book hard to put into action. Because the premise of the book is to do something else with the time you would have spent on your phone. But activities I’m able to think of that are possible with a little 7 weeker in tow (especially one who wants to do nothing more than feed and sleep on me!) are near impossible.

So I suppose today I’m having a bit of a moment of feeling a bit down. Looking back on the ease of my pre-mum life and wishing I could be back there for just one day. And I’m also becoming aware that parenthood is going to teach me so much about just being – something which feels so uncomfortable for me when I’m used to rushing around and accomplishing so much.

I think this is one of the biggest lessons in my life – letting go of doing and allowing myself to just be. Relaxing into this moment, whatever it brings. Learning to adapt and let go of what I want in order to enjoy what is.

I know it’s good for me but I also know that it’s hard for me. So I will have hard days, and that’s ok. It’s all part of the experience of being a new parent and finding my feet in this new reality.

Accepting help

I wrote recently about how having Jenson, my son, is teaching me more about asking for help (and being ok relying on others) than I could have ever imagined. And I feel like this will be the lesson for me in 2018, being ok asking for help and also being ok with being specific about what help I need.

My lovely parents-in-law are here in Brighton visiting for a week – partly to spend time with Jenson, their first grandchild and to also give us some support and help as we transition into parenthood.

I’ve been surprised with how hard I’ve found it to even contemplate being specific about what they, particularly Kathryn, can do to help me.

Partly it’s because I feel awkward asking her to clean my bathroom or wash my bedsheets – things that I feel shouldn’t be up to other people to do (but things she has specifically said she’ll do if it would help us). But when I ask myself what else is underneath it, there are some specific things which are making me feel uncomfortable making the requests.

Rejection

Yes, I’m afraid of rejection. Afraid that I’ll ask for something and it will get slapped down or I’ll get laughed at for asking for what I need. It’s easier to just be a lone island, to be completely self-sufficient, than to risk having my requests (and by association, me) rejected by others.

Unworthiness

There is part of me that also doesn’t feel worthy of such practical displays of support and affection from other people. It makes me feel uncomfortable to need other people. I’m used to being ‘strong’, used to being the helper, and so this new reality is challenging who I am and what my use is in this world. It’s making me ask hard questions – am I worthy of people just doing things for me out of love where nothing is expected back?

Vulnerable

When people help me, I feel vulnerable. Like Katniss in the Hunger Games (apologies if you’re not a fan, I bloody love these books!) who has the need to repay every good deed done to her, I feel that every good deed done to me has a price which will one day need to be paid back. And not knowing the price that will need to be paid, the deed which will need to be done, I’d rather just cope alone. It makes me feel vulnerable.

But I want to trust that these acts of kindness can be just that – acts of kindness – with no price to pay back, no expectation from anyone else. And I want to feel able to show others my vulnerability.


So there are lots of things under the simple acceptance of help from other people – things I know I will need to unpack. But for now I feel that it’s simply ok to acknowledge them, to know they are there, and perhaps just by knowing this, I won’t be as enslaved by them.

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